Title: Social Innovation in Food Provision: Pathways to Sustainable Production and Consumption

Funding source: Latvian Council of Science, Fundamental and applied research project programme, agreement no. lzp-2018/1-0344.

Total funding: EUR 299 100.00

Implementation period: 01.09.2018-31.08.2021.

Coordinator: Baltic Studies Centre

The project SINFO is based on a combination of two major strands of research - innovation studies and food studies. The main objectives of the project are (i) to improve scientific understanding of social innovation in food provision, and (ii) to explore conditions, frameworks and scenarios for enabling practical innovations towards sustainable food production and consumption in Latvia.

The project raises three research questions: (i) what is the scope, diversity and dynamics of social innovation in food provision; (ii) what are the outcomes of social innovation; (iii) what is the relation between social innovation and governance in food provision. The project aims to advance the state of the art by examining how social innovations taking place in various sectors of the food system can be upscaled through better alignment with the principles and practices of participatory governance.

The project is organised in six work packages, including conceptual typology, drivers of change towards sustainable production and consumption, pathways towards sustainable food provision, enabling frameworks, and communication and dissemination. In order to achieve the objectives, the project proposes a mix of research methods, including case studies, interviews, media analysis, surveys, policy analysis, scenario development, stakeholder engagement and consultation. Over the course of the project the research team has conducted desk research and carried out extensive empirical work:

- Work on the conceptual framework, based on an extensive literature review, allowed for identifying the diversity of drivers behind social innovation, and the ways in which social innovation in food provision can contribute to positive food system outcomes, whilst bearing in mind the obstacles that hamper food provision initiatives from developing and up-scaling;

- The cataloguing of food provision initiatives (n=70) in Latvia formed the basis of a typology of such initiatives, which was used for the selection of case studies exemplifying the involvement of diverse stakeholders and different governance mechanisms;

- The case study analysis (n=3) provided further insight into practical realities of social innovation in food provision, associated collaborative and governance arrangements, and the commonalities between different initiatives (see practice abstracts on Ikšķile Free schoolDirect (food) purchase groups, and Artisanal food stall "Klēts" ar RIMI supermarkets);

- The media text analysis (n=193) allowed for identifying the dominant framings of dietary habits in Latvian media. Crucially, it indicated that topics of interest to the SINFO project are not part of the mainstream and relegated to publications with narrow readerships (see the academic publication in the journal Appetite);

- The public opinion survey (nationwide sample survey of the population; n=1046) allowed for identifying trends in consumer demand for sustainable food and changes in diets, and perceived food security risks and vulnerabilities from the perspective of consumers;

- The subsequent focus group discussions provided a deeper understanding of the results of the public opinion survey;

- The producer survey (n=177) allowed for identifying the perceived changes in consumer demand, the measures that have been taken to ensure the supply of sustainably produced products, and industry-wide shifts associated with the above;

- The consolidated findings were utilised in developing future scenarios and pathways towards sustainable food provision, which were discussed with food sector representatives, and elaborating policy and practice recommendations oriented at the food industry, consumers and policy makers.

The combined insights allowed us to examine different modes of sustainable food production and consumption that provide desirable public health, environmental, economic, and social outcomes, and understand enabling frameworks and governance arrangements that allow for the unfolding of social innovation and the alignment of sustainable production and consumption. 

On 11 June 2021, an interdisciplinary scientific conference “Latvia on the Road to Sustainable Food Production and Consumption” was organised by BSC as part of the SINFO project. The aim of the conference was to bring together Latvian researchers representing different local and foreign scientific organisations of various disciplinary backgrounds that undertake research on different aspects of sustainable production and consumption of food. The programme featured presentations by researchers from higher education establishments and research institutes in Latvia and abroad, from a range of different disciplines such as sociology, economics, social anthropology, nutrition science, design, engineering and computer science. In total, 13 reports were presented (10 of these are featured in the book of abstracts), attracting an audience of over 50 people, including researchers, public officials, representatives of the food industry and non-governmental organisations, as well as students.

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